INTERVIEW: RAYMOND FEDERMAN
What originally led you to the kind of formal experiments that appear in a novel like Double or Nothing or novella like Voice in the Closet?
When I wrote DON I had no idea I was experimenting. I was just trying to learn how to write a novel that could accommodate the kind of chaos the kind of incoherence the kind of doubt the kind of discontinuity the kind of fragmentation that my life was then and still is. I did not begin with formal experimentation. I began the way everybody begins a novel. By writing sentences more or less correctly. But then the sentences started to fall apart because what I was trying to say/write refused to let itself be said/written the normal way. And this because the language I was using was not mine. It was borrowed language. A second-hand language. And as you know second-hand things—let's say like a second-hand car—soon after you begin using them they fall apart. Basically the formal experimentation in DON is fucked up language. I try to rectify that in The Voice by making neat little squares with words but that too did not work. It became an unreadable book. At least that's what people tell me.
What's the appeal, from a writer's point of view, of formal innovation in a larger socio-literary context that tends not to value it?
The appeal is that you feel free from all socio-economical pressures because you know that you will not become rich and famous writing formal innovation. Or as my friend Sam Beckett said to me when I told him back in 1966 that I was writing a novel called DON—he said: Raymond if you write for money do something else. And he added: never compromise your work. To answer your question more directly: I write because I have to write, and whether or not what I write is valued or devalued, I don't give a shit.
What sort of advice would you have to young writers approaching the concept of formal innovation for the first time?
Do something else. It does not pay. But if you insist on doing formal innovation go all the way. If you're going to innovate innnovate and don't fuck around. But remember whatever you do eventually your innovations will be recuperated into the mainstream and you will have innovated for nothing. My advice. Sell out to the establishment as soon as possible. It's a hopeless situation. Or as Sam Beckett once put it (sorry for mentioning him so often but I suffer from beckettmania) we are all born mad only a few remain so.
RAYMOND FEDERMAN, one of the grand innovators of fiction, was a bilingual novelist, poet, critic, and translator who published over twenty books. This interview first appeared in Rebel Yell (1998).